Russian parliament expels anti-Putin deputy
MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Russian opposition lawmaker Gennady Gudkov, speaks to the media in front of his office inside the State Duma. AP photoRussia's lower house of parliament today stripped a leading anti-Vladimir Putin deputy of his mandate, in an unusual move critics said was revenge for his scathing criticism of the Kremlin.
The State Duma voted 291 in favor with 150 against and three abstentions to strip A Just Russia party member Gennady Gudkov of his mandate over alleged conflicting business interests.
Gudkov immediately walked out of the chamber, shaking his fist in defiance and embracing his party colleagues in farewell. His ejection had been in little doubt given it was supported by the dominant United Russia party.
"We have shamed ourselves today in front of the whole world," Gudkov told reporters after the vote, saying he would appeal the decision at the supreme court.
"I am going to continue the struggle and I will not leave the country and hide like a hare. The country has made another step towards civil war." Gudkov is one of the leading figures in the mass demonstrations against Putin's rule that have rocked Russia since December and he was one of the very few figures in the often pliant chamber to vehemently criticize the Kremlin.
A burly straight-talker with a macho mustache and who always appears with a loose tie and undone top button, Gudkov has for months blasted the authorities over electoral fraud and systemic corruption.
Russia's Investigative Committee is now examining whether he broke the law through his ownership of a private security firm while sitting as an MP. It will decide by September 23 whether to open a criminal probe.
After losing his mandate, Gudkov no longer has the immunity enjoyed by deputies and could in theory face criminal charges. He said he did not even rule out being arrested at the next massive opposition protest on Saturday, which protest leaders hope will rally tens of thousands of people. "Let them dare," he said.
Several deputies urged their fellow MPs in the debate ahead of the vote not to expel Gudkov, saying his ejection would be just a prelude to expelling other critical lawmakers and stoking civil unrest.
"This is a dangerous precedent, this is how they started in Germany in 1933," said Communist deputy Valentin Romanov, asking to suspend the debate over Gudkov in the Duma.
"I ask deputies not to open the Pandora's box," said Gudkov's colleague Ilya Ponomaryov, also known for participation in opposition rallies.
Gudkov himself asked the Duma to hold a secret ballot over his fate so that "people vote the way they think, not the way they are told." His proposition was rejected.
Gudkov is a product of the Soviet establishment who like Putin was an agent at the Soviet secret service the KGB and its post-Soviet successor the FSB. He left the FSB in 1993 to found a private security holding.
The family ran the business for years before authorities raided several of the holding's branches this year, suspending their weapons licences. Gudkov said Friday that the business is now "destroyed".
He started a career in the parliament in 2001 as a member of the People's Party of Russia, later becoming its leader.
When the party in 2003 polls did not win enough votes to qualify for the Duma Gudkov still won his seat as he joined the faction of the ruling United Russia party in parliament.
In 2007 the People's Party dissolved itself and most of its members including Gudkov switched to the newly-created A Just Russia. He gradually became one of the Kremlin's most vocal critics in the Duma.
Some observers said it was Gudkov's KGB career and former alliance with United Russia that led the establishment to turn against one of their own in revenge for his move to the opposition.
As if in support of that claim, Gudkov's speech to the parliament ended with someone shouting "Judas!" from the floor.